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NinjaDorg’s Ramblings on the Solo Aspects of Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon

The inimitable NinjaDorg graciously provided to Solo Nexus the following terrific overview of the solo merits of Wrath of Ashardalon...

The Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System consists of the board games Wrath of Ashardalon and Castle Ravenloft (and also Legend of Drizzt, which is coming in October), which are basically the same game but with different themes: Dragons and Orcs for Wrath, Vampires and Undead for Ravenloft. Both games are hack and slash dungeon crawlers based loosely on their original D&D modules that build a random dungeon for you to explore by drawing room tiles, random monsters - and random treasures when you defeat them - and dangerous encounters. Today I’ll be focusing on Wrath of Ashardalon.

It’s Dungeons & Dragons stripped down to a very light version with no Dungeon Master and it clocks in at about an hour per Adventure, unlike some other Dungeon Crawlers around today (ahem, Descent, ahem). You can also string adventures together to create ongoing campaigns keeping the same hero/es as you go. It’s entirely cooperative, although you could choose to compete for most kills/treasures/experience/whatever, so you’ll either be adventuring with your hero mates or going it alone.

You choose a party of archetypal heroes (wizard, fighter, cleric, rogue or paladin) or a single hero, select their powers and set out to achieve an objective defined by the particular scenario you choose. There are about 12 adventures in each game, but with tons of support from both Wizards of the Coast (who have already released 6 bonus quests just for Castle Ravenloft) and the online community. I developed an ongoing geeklist of adventures created by BoardGameGeek users and there are already 29 new user-created quests in the database, which can be found HERE.

Solo play is clearly a major design consideration for WoA. Although there is only one Adventure listed as for ‘One Hero (A Solo Experience)’ and the others are listed as ‘2-5 heroes’ there is nothing stopping you from running 2-5 heroes yourself. Personally, when playing solo I prefer to use just one hero as it’s easier to immerse yourself in the game and you don’t have to keep track of too many working parts. Luckily all the adventures scale well to the number of heroes because you basically draw one monster and/or encounter per hero each turn. So it’s straightforward enough to just take one solo hero through all the adventures. It can be quite tricky too – the adventure book even recommends trying a solo hero “for the ultimate challenge”!

The game has a nifty mechanic called Healing Surges. Basically, if your hero is knocked down to 0HP by monsters or traps you can spend a Healing Surge to get back on your feet and carry on again. In the standard game you get 2 Healing Surges, 1 if you want a difficult challenge, or 3 if you want to take it easy. There are in fact 5 Surge tokens included with the game, so if you’re playing solo it’s nice to be able to use them like inserting coins into an arcade machine and then record your results after each adventure to see if you can use less Healing Surges next time.

The monsters and villains are controlled by a clever AI system that negates the need for an evil player and suits solo play perfectly. On each monster card there are a list of tactics – you simply read down the list until a tactic applies, usually they’ll move towards you or try and hit you with a ranged or melee attack. But some of them are a little more cunning and might run off and try and get reinforcements, for example. There are also NPCs in the game who operate the same way – you read down their tactics to see what they get up to, some might fight the nearest monster, or run for the nearest exit, or hide behind your heroes, one particularly troublesome young lad actually runs off exploring the dungeon and discovering more monsters if you don’t keep him in check! It’s cool how these little personalities emerge from a couple of sentences of tactics on each card, and it helps you to believe that these creatures have a mind of their own, even if no one is actually there physically controlling them for you.

With 40+ minis (and a couple of biggies – the red dragon is mahoosive!) in the box and 40+ dungeon tiles the price tag would be worth these pretty bits alone. The fact that it also contains an infinitely re-playable, simplistic and fast-moving dungeon crawling system is a gigantic strawberry on top of the icing on the cake. And for those D&D 4E role-players out there this much stuff in one box must be a godsend: orcs, kobolds, bears, snakes, cultists and more. My gang used to role-play tons when we were kids but we never have the time anymore as adults with families and jobs and stuff. So this game makes a great quick fix to fill that void, and hits all the major points without getting bogged down in too much story-telling (although it is capable of building interesting narratives) or heavy mechanics. I always resented rolling tons of dice in Descent: Journeys In The Dark and having to count endless pips and check powers and skills and weapons and everything else, in WOA you simply roll 1d20 and apply the results. Simples.

You can play each of the adventures as a stand-alone quest each time and try different combinations of heroes and powers, and you’ll get a different experience every time because of the random tile/monster/treasure/encounter draws. But for me the campaign rules edge Wrath of Ashardalon just above its predecessor Castle Ravenloft, because there’s nothing cooler than taking your hero from strength to strength between adventures, gathering gold and treasure, and watching them grow tough enough to try and take on the big red dragon himself....

This game is all about customization, in fact it begs for it. The actual Adventures included each have individual scenario-specific rules that are all jigsaw pieces of a bigger picture, of what you can achieve if you combine them all together. You won’t want to mix them all up at first because the game gradually introduces you to each concept one at a time, but eventually you’ll be building your own scenarios and looking at ways to utilise everything at once and add in your own stuff too.

For example, one quest has you navigate a path through a series of Doors that can be Trapped (causing damage), Locked (causing you to look for another route or waste time trying to open them) or Unlocked. After you’ve played this through a couple of times, there’s no reason you can’t include Doors in every Adventure you play from now on.

There are also Chambers, which are much bigger rooms that you encounter at the end of certain dungeons which house the final boss or goal of that dungeon. You can draw the Chamber randomly from the 14 Chamber cards included, or you can easily design your own for an endless variety of quest objectives.

The monster/NPC tactics mentioned above also make it incredibly easy to design and include your own mods suitable to whatever minis you already own. If you sleeve your cards you can just slip a bit of paper in front of the existing monsters with your own scribbled concoctions and bring into play all sorts of combinations of bad guys or villagers or whoever you feel like meeting and/or beating the crap out of. There are tons of fanmade monsters on the ‘Geek and some people have even developed entire Artscow monster decks to replace the existing official versions. You can check out Ignazio Corrao’s custom Monster deck HERE.

The heroes themselves are also easy to create and play-test, and I’ve put together a geeklist of the existing fanmade heroes built by the community which can be found HERE.

As you can see, pretty much every aspect of this game is easily customizable. It’s a very elegant and effortless system that can be built upon or added to very easily. For example, I prefer the campaign style of play, so along with some other BGGers we came up with story events that affect your hero/es between adventures, similar to those from Warhammer Quest. These help string multiple adventures together and provide a bit more depth to the whole experience. You can see the results of our efforts HERE.

Finally, for a fairly broad session report on how the game actually plays out as a solo experience you can check out my blog entry on the experience HERE.

I hope this clears up some questions you might have about the game, but if you have any other queries just comment below or hit me up at the blog.

Thanks a lot, NinjaDorg! Awesome overview!

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